EFL: Covid passports may be only way of averting 'dramatic financial effect' of fans not returning

By Simon StoneBBC Sport
Fans at Brighton against Chelsea
Up to 10,000 fans could be allowed at Premier League matches on 18-20 May and 23 May

Covid passports may be the only way of averting the "dramatic financial effect" of fans not returning to stadiums for the start of next season, according to the Football League.

There has been opposition to the method in which the government is planning to open up large-scale events, which have effectively been closed to the public for more than a year.

For football, that is likely to require either proof of a negative test, or a vaccination or the presence of antibodies to gain access to stadiums, with further testing being likely after the event.

The plan has been described as "divisive and discriminatory" by opponents.

However, as the 72 member clubs wrestle with the £250m financial hit caused by more than a season with almost no fans at matches, EFL chief executive Trevor Birch says Covid passports may be the only way forward.

"We understand one side of the debate in terms of civil liberties," Birch told BBC Sport.

"But on the other side, if it is the only way of releasing fans to attend games, I think probably, it has to be embraced because without Covid certification, we may not be able to get full fans back in stadiums which will have a dramatic financial effect on the clubs.

"It is not ideal for everybody but at least it is giving some kind of greater liberty to a greater number of people."

Birch says the loss of revenue has taken "a significant toll" on clubs.

So desperate is the requirement to get fans back into stadiums as soon as practical that a meeting of clubs on Thursday will discuss whether to push the play-off semi-finals, which would normally be held in the week after the season ends on 8 May, to the 17 May, which is the point at which the government plans to remove most restrictions and supporters will be allowed back to matches.

"It is a very fluid situation," said Birch.

"There are various issues the clubs will need to decide upon, not least of which being that there might be Welsh clubs in those semi-finals, who might have a different strategy at that stage."

Evidently, the EFL Cup final between Tottenham and Manchester City at Wembley on 25 April is of pressing concern.

BBC Sport understands each club will be given 2,000 of the 8,000 tickets, with local residents receiving a further 2,000 and another 2,000 being offered to NHS workers as a goodwill gesture.

However, numerous questions remain unanswered, including the cost of tickets, how fans should get to the stadiums, what the testing procedure both before and after the game will be and if, as is the case with the World Snooker Championship, under-18s are not allowed to attend.

"All those questions are being considered and hopefully will be answered in very short order," said Birch, who added that he hoped a stringent testing programme would mean the need for social distancing in the stadium itself is not required.

There have been fans at EFL grounds this season, initially during the pilot programme that ran at the start of the campaign, then, in November and December at grounds that were in Tier Two locations.

However, many clubs have had no supporters and those that have were not able to generate anything like the sums required to balance the books.

"This situation cannot go on forever," said Birch.

"We are probably at that stage where we will be - I am not going to say desperate - but in a situation where we need to get fans back through the doors for clubs to be able to balance their books.

"I would ask the authorities to place faith in the fact we are experts in delivering large-scale events and trust us to deliver whatever procedures are put in place to protect the public by way of Covid certifications to allow us to get back to full stadiums.

"I have every confidence in the ability of our 72 clubs to delivering a safe environment for supporters to return."

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